Richard Donner dies at 91

Richard Donner, left, making a cameo in The Giuoco Piano Affair episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Richard Donner, a director who made audiences believe a man could fly with 1978’s Superman, has died, Variety reported. He was 91.

Donner became an A-list movie director as a result. He directed four installments of the Lethal Weapon film series as well as The Goonies, and Conspiracy Theory.

Among the stepping stones to achieving that status was helming episodes of 1960s spy TV shows. He directed four episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., three episodes of The Wild Wild West, and two episodes of Get Smart.

Donner’s U.N.C.L.E. work was all within the show’s first half-season. Two of his episodes, The Quadripartite Affair and The Giuoco Piano Affair, helped establish the character of Illya Kuryakin played by David McCallum.

The Quadripartite Affair was the third episode broadcast and the first with a significant amount of air time for the Kuryakin character. That and The Giuoco Piano Affair were filmed back-to-back. But the latter episode aired four weeks later, presented as a sequel.

Donner, along with other members of the production team, had cameos in a party scene. The director’s character was listed as “Inebriate” in the end titles and was used as comedy relief.

One of Donner’s episodes for The Wild Wild West, The Night of the Murderous Spring, was one of the best episodes involving Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn) as the arch-foe of U.S. Secret Service agents James West and Artemus Gordon (Robert Conrad and Ross Martin).

Also among Donner’s credits was a 1966 episode of The FBI with an espionage theme titled The Spy Master.

Donner also directed a rare episode of The Twilight Zone, The Jeopardy Room, which had no fantasy or science fiction elements. It was a spy story, essentially a match of wits between two men (Martin Landau and John Van Dreelen).

The director also helmed one of the most famous episodes of the show, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, where an aircraft passenger is the only person aboard who can see a gremlin on the wing of the plane.

After Superman, Donner’s services as a film director were in demand.

Donner was Sean Connery’s first choice to direct Never Say Never Again, the 1983 non-Eon Productions James Bond film. The director, however, had misgivings about the script, according to the book Some Kind of Hero. Irvin Kirschner ended up getting the job.

Live and Let Die script: More mayhem

Part of the Live And Let Die soundtrack packaging.

Live And Let Die was a rare case for the James Bond film series. Only one screenwriter, Tom Mankiewicz, was employed throughout the production.

An Oct. 2, 1972 screenplay was labeled as the shooting script. It’s close to what moviegoers would see in the summer of 1973 for Roger Moore’s debut as Bond. But the script still contains notable differences. With the excerpts below, words between asterisks were underlined in the script.

A more gruesome death: The script opens with the deaths of three agents as in the finished film. But the demise of the third agent is implied to more gruesome.

A MACHETE BLADE FLASHES INTO FRAME: A sickening laugh i heard as the blade sweeps down at BAINES. CAMERA FREEZES FRAME ON GLINTING MACHETE BLADE.

Recognition phrase: When Bond arrives in New York, he meets up with a contact named Charlie. Except in this script, there’s a recognition phrase or code involved,

Charlie attempts to introduce himself in a more conventional way. Bond instead pulls his Walther PPK on Charlie.

CHARLIE
Oh!
(mechanically)
You want to go to Shea Stadium? The Yankees are playing a double header.

BOND
(smiles, lowers gun)
The *Mets* play at Shea. The Baseball season doesn’t begin until April.

CHARLIE
My mistake.
(sighing)
Sorry – I forgot. We don’t do too much of that over here anymore. Oh – Mister Leiter wants to talk to you.

This exchange doesn’t appear in the film. But the basic notion of American operatives giving up on recognition phrases while the British stick with them would be used in 1995’s GoldenEye.

Bond’s trip to Harlem: Bond catches a cab to Harlem while following a group of Dr. Kananga’s associates. For some reason, the cab driver addresses Bond as “Jim” twice even though no introduction had been made. In the film, as in this script, the driver shows up again in New Orleans calling Bond “Jim.”

Tombstones: Mr. Big/Kananga tells Bond that, “Names are for tombstones, baby.” In the film, it’s come out as, “Names is for tombstones, baby.” The latter is sometimes used as a catchphrase among Bond fans.

Bond dispatches Mr. Big’s thugs: Bond is being led from Mr. Big/Kananga’s New York office to be killed by two thugs. The description is a bit more violent than in the film.

As in the film, Bond uses a steel grating from a fire escape. The grating is coming at Bond’s face but the agent ducks. The grating “slams into GUARD ONE’s face with a terrifying crunch.” Bond gets the thug’s gun as the man falls. Bond then gets behind the first thug as the second fires. That shot kills the first thug. Bond shoots the second to death.

Bond arrives in San Monique: There is a scene that’s not in the movie. Bond goes through customs upon arrival. The customs area has photos of Dr. Kananga and “propaganda messages for San Monique.” Bond doesn’t notice that the customs official he’s dealing with takes a photo of the agent’s passport photo.

Bond’s San Monique bungalow: The scene is very similar to the final film but there are a few key differences. Bond manages to decapitate the snake intended to kill him. Rosie Carver is described as “a beautiful WHITE GIRL.” After Bond tosses her on the bed she is “semi-naked, her dress having been torn in half.” The part was played by Black actress Gloria Hendry in the movie.

Continuity: Bond and Rosie charter a boat. She doesn’t know it belongs to Quarrel Jr., who’s working with Bond. Eventually, the agent makes an introduction. “Rosie Carver – meet the man who shares my hairbrush – Quarrel Jr. His father and I locked horns with a Doctor named No several years ago.” The latter line wouldn’t make the final film.

Shark gun: This weapon, which fires gas-filled pellets, is introduced during the boat sequence of the script. After told about the gun by Quarrel Jr., Bond fires a pellet into the mouth of a shark. “CAMERA HOLDS ON SHARK as it suddenly *begins to inflate to several times normal size*, the huge balloon-like fish now disappearing in the wake of the fishing boat.”

Rosie’s death: In the movie, she is killed by a gun hidden in a Baron Samedi-style scarecrow. In this script, she’s running away from Bond when she “suddenly *jumps off the side of the road*, disappears from view.” It’s a long fall. “ROSIE’s body lies broken and mangled in a stone quarry some hundred feet below.”

New Orleans airport: Bond eventually meets up with Solitaire and takes her to New Orleans. The sequence set at that city’s airport has considerably more mayhem than in the final film.

Among other things, Bond attempts to take off in the Bleeker flying school plane (with kindly Mrs. Bell aboard). But he uses a runway where two private planes are landing. There are combined plane and car crashes. The gag where the wings of the Bleeker plane are torn off is in the script but adds Mrs. Bell feinting.

Toward the end of the sequence, the plane’s controls won’t respond. The aircraft hits a fence, its propeller cutting through the fence. The plane comes down at a 45-degree angle. Bond is hanging upside down, held in place by his seat belt. “He looks over at MRS. BELL who moans, starts to come out of her coma.”

Felix Leiter later summarizes events.

“Not too bad. Extensive damage to the hangar, five planes, four cars, and a forty foot section of fence. Not to mention giving a seventy-year-old Granny the worst jolt she’s had since her wedding night. Christ, James, what a way to sneak into town.”

Boat chase: This was the action centerpiece of the film. This script’s version is more frantic. For example, a boat towing a pyramid of water skiers gets in the middle of the chase. The skiers stay upright for quite a while before they inevitably come tumbling down.

Also, a boat involved in the chase goes from the water onto a golf course. A member of a foursome is about to attempt a 30-foot putt. He jerks, striking his golf ball involuntarily as one of the villain boats lands in a nearby bunker. Naturally, the putt proves successful.

The end: In this script, there is no Baron Samedi riding the train engine. Instead we have this symbolic ending of what Bond and Solitaire are doing. Perhaps it was an homage by Mankiewicz of North by Northwest.

EXT. TRAIN TRACK JUNCTION CLOSE ON RED SIGNAL NIGHT

CAMERA CLOSE on a large, circular sign hanging over one track at a central train junction: A red light blinks on and off over the words: *NO ENTRY*. With a loud “ding,” the sign flips down, is replaced by a bright, blinking green light as BOND’s train whistles through, and off into the distance…

FADE OUT

THE END